These little anecdotes from my childhood are really fun to write and remember. Here are a couple more.
I don’t remember my mom leaving us with babysitters very often. We had family all around, for one thing, so most of the time we’d just stay with them. But the babysitters we did have didn’t last very long.
Mom tried to have the Aunts babysit us one night at our house instead of sending us to one of theirs, so we could go to bed on time (as if that would ever happen), and that didn’t go well either. We listened to the Aunts better if we were at their houses; they could always call on our uncles for back-up, and we respected them enough to (mostly) obey their rules.
In our house the Aunts weren’t even sure what the rules were, and since they were so easy-going, sometimes we’d ask if we could do things just to see if they’d say yes. Like “Can I color your dentures with crayons?” “Do you want to see every toy I own? Let me get them all out for you,” and my mom’s favorite, “Can we use these cheese sticks you gave us for snacks to draw on the counter tops?” Sure kids, just don’t kill yourselves or each other. Mom swore never again (amongst other swears) as she scrubbed the cheese off the counters after she got home that night. “Why in the hell would you even think to use cheese to draw on the counters?”
We had one lady my parents tried to hire as a regular babysitter. I’ll call her Betsy. She was a hitter. I don’t think she started out that way. She probably had our parents’ permission to spank us if she thought we deserved it, and likely we did. But she didn’t spank; she slapped. I’m not a fan of corporal punishment of any form, and I would never lay a finger on my own kids. But even I see a slight difference between “If you do this you’re getting a spanking” and just hauling off and slapping the shit out of someone else’s kid in a fit of rage.
We were wild kids, and if we weren’t causing trouble as a team, we were fighting each other. Betsy was also a pretty crappy babysitter. After a few newbie attempts at interacting with us, she mostly sat on the couch in front of the TV talking to her boyfriend on the phone and smoking cigarettes while my sister and I did whatever we wanted. If we got too loud she’d cover the phone with her hand and yell.
But sometimes I just wanted attention, and negative attention is better than none, right?
If I bothered her when she was talking, Betsy tried to do that silent angry-gesturing thing where I got waved away while she mouthed “Not right now” or “I’m busy” and pointed at the phone as if I wasn’t aware she’d been on it all evening. I got enough of that from my mom, who was a pro at escalating from “Not right now” to “I will murder you if you don’t eff off and they’ll never find the body” all in pidgin sign language in the space of mere minutes.
I had to put up with that from Mom, but I understood that Betsy was getting paid to take care of me. Not to talk on the phone. So I devised a plan to get her to hang up.
While she chattered away, I sat innocently at her feet for a while, pretending to be watching TV. I tracked her movements as she shifted position every so often, twirling her hair or the phone cord, crossing and uncrossing her legs.
When she fired up her next cigarette and put it down, I nudged the ash tray over to where her foot would be the next time she changed legs. I didn’t really think it would work, but boy did it. She put her foot down right onto the lit cigarette and yelled something awful into the receiver. I gave myself away by laughing maniacally.
She chased me around the house for a while and when she caught me, she knocked the shit out of me. I couldn’t believe that an adult would dare retaliate. I was just a kid!
I don’t even think that was the night she got fired, because I remember her feeling bad about it and making up with me afterward. But after she got away with that first slap she decided she could do it again, and the next time she was there and we misbehaved, she hit one of us—I don’t remember if it was me or my sister that time. But we decided she had to go.
We pretended that we were properly subdued and went into my sister’s room to play quietly. Any time we were playing quietly, someone should have known something was up, but ol’ slap-happy Betsy thought she’d won and we were going to mind her.
What we were really doing was whispering our plot to one another as we got dressed in jeans and warmer shirts. We couldn’t get to any shoes, because we’d have to go by Betsy to do that. After we were dressed, my sister helped lower me out her window (it was one of the lowest in the house) and then she hung out of it and jumped. We ran through the fields to our grandma’s house and told her to call the Child Abuse Hotline (it was always on TV back then).
Grandma didn’t do that, but she kept us until our parents got home, gave them an earful of our side of the story, and Betsy never babysat us again.
I never found out what Betsy thought or what she did when she realized we’d gone out the window. Probably good riddance. Followed by guess there goes my pay for the evening. I’ve always wondered. If there was a good reason to smoke, though, babysitting us was it.
Then there was a guy I’ll call Bill. He wasn’t even a proper babysitter, but my mom was desperate one night and he was the only option. Bill was a college-aged guy from our church who was a friend of my mom’s from the choir she managed, and he’d been to our house to visit a few times.
I liked Bill OK, but my sister hated him. One day he was lying in the floor in our living room and she didn’t want him there, so she pretended he didn’t exist. That meant she didn’t have to step over him. She stepped ON him right where it counted. He probably didn’t like her much after that, either.
Bill had no experience with kids so he let us eat whatever we wanted and do whatever we wanted, and we just kept winding up more and more until we were running through the house like little maniacs. He told me to stop doing something and I didn’t listen. He told me a few times. Then he finally caught me and wouldn’t let me go.
I said I promised I wouldn’t do whatever it was again.
OK, he said, and let me up. Of course I went right back to doing it.
It was almost time for my mom to come back so he caught me again and said “You are sitting on this couch with me until your mom gets home.”
I said I had to pee.
He said “You’re making that up so I’ll let you loose.”
I said no really, I have to go.
He said he’d already fallen for that trick and my mom would be home in 20 minutes. Plus I should have thought of that before I lied to him.
I remember thinking “I’ll show him” right before I deliberately pissed all over him and the couch.
When Mom came home 20 minutes later he was red-faced, furious, covered in piss, and trying to clean it up with wet washrags, towels, and a box fan. That man never did have any kids.
We finally did have one babysitter who lasted, and I’ll use her real name, which was Karen. Karen was cool. She actually played with us most of the time she was babysitting and she genuinely liked kids, even somewhat evil ones. In return, we didn’t have to find a way to get rid of her.
As an adult I have a powerful aversion to most insects, but when I was a kid, I was obsessed by them. The poor bastards.
I was a pro at catching butterflies, but not so pro at releasing them. I had an old fish bowl for a bug catcher and usually if I went out hunting my mom gave me a piece of aluminum foil for a lid. I poked holes in it and spent glorious hours chasing and catching butterflies in our driveway and all along the dirt road. They were drawn to the flowers my parents planted, and to the many mud-holes in the dirt road. I got good at creeping up behind like a ninja and pinching their wings together.
Snatch! Into the fishbowl.
Then my mom would call me for lunch and I’d go running and leave the bowl in the driveway.
In the baking summer heat with foil on top.
I’m probably responsible for the decline of swallowtail butterflies in that Southern West Virginia.
That’s not all, though. I used bugs as weapons. My older sister was a bully at times. She was bigger and stronger, but I was sneakier and (dare I say) meaner. Her Achilles Heel was a butterfly. She was terrified of them.
We had a playhouse, and my dad bolted a mailbox to it. My great-aunts would leave us mail in there sometimes–holiday cards, or just little treats, and put the flag up.
If I was mad at my sister I’d fill it up with butterflies. Then I’d go find her and say “Guess what? Glenna left us something in the mailbox!” If I gave it a good bang right as she opened it they’d all flutter out in her face.
I had to wait weeks or months before she’d fall for it again, but she did fall for it several times. I even figured out if I legitimately came to get her when the Aunts did leave us something, she’d be easier to fool the next time. Butterfly Roulette.
I also hid bugs in plastic Easter eggs and left them around the house for my mom and sister to find. Katy-dids got the most bang for my buck. They were so large they’d fill the egg, so they wouldn’t move around and give themselves away. Then they’d come out pissed and flying.
I even learned to catch bees. If you sneak up on them as they’re roaming through the clover and put a Mason jar over them, they try to fly up and can’t figure out that down is the way to freedom. Then the lid can be clamped on from underneath, and removed for the next bee victim. I’d catch a whole jar full of bees with my cousins, give it a good shake to piss them off, open the lid, and we’d all run away screaming our heads off.
We caught hundreds of lightning bugs, and we always wanted to keep them. Of course most of them ended up dead the next morning. That made us sad, so one night me and one of my cousins decided we’d be kind to our glowing prisoners and set them loose in my room. We had a gallon milk jug full. As we fell asleep watching them flicker on and off all over the ceiling, we chattered about how brilliant we were. How had we never thought of this before? We should do it all summer long!
We realized our folly when we woke up and one of the lightning bugs was wedged in my cousin’s ear. We were terrified it was going to squish when we tried to get it out.
I’ve always blamed OCD or watching too many gross horror movies for turning me against bugs (Halloween or Lost Boys, anyone? And Creepshow…ugh!). But it could also be poetic justice.